The Nose versus the Grindstone

Laughing girl, from a group of statues: a satyr invites a menad to dance. Roman copy after an original from ca. 150 BC. Source: Wikimedia Commons; File:Head laughing girl Glyptothek Munich.jpg

Throughout college I had a full-page ad ripped from my mother’s subscription to the New York Times tacked to my dorm room walls. It featured a statue, a Roman soldier in full possession of all his noble faculties except for a missing nose. Now, if I am remembering my history correctly, such limbs and appendages were prone to time and weapon-wielding adversaries, but this image was most meaningful to me for the bold heading that dominated the ad:

Put Your Nose to the Grindstone and All You’ll Get Is a Short Nose

 
Funny? Yes. Serious? Yes. For me, it was an important reminder to stop working from time to time and live a little. College, in my memory was like that, full of students who played as hard as they worked. And as one of a handful of English students to focus dreamily on poetry, surrounded by eager hoards of opinionated debaters on their B.A. way to law school, it was easy to get lost among the glittering ambition and hungry plans for a dazzling future.

Back in the eighties, at least at Penn, hundreds of students like me still majored in English. This was immensely to my father’s chagrin. From time to time he would approach to whisper a dreaded word in my ear: Wharton.

The celebrated Wharton School of Business was a mecca to all but the likes of me, but at last I gave in and to make my dad happy I signed up for a business class. I lasted three sessions, but I knew I was a goner the first day of class, when I showed up in white sneakers and khaki overalls (I thought I looked cute), while my classmates were in navy suits. I kid you not.

Well, maybe my memory is a bit blurred on this, but I was definitely a stranger in a strange land, and I skipped back gladly to where I belonged—surrounded by angry feminists and muttering deconstructionists and similar “ists” arguing among themselves over labyrinthine theory and who was the most oppressed while I struggled to learn what makes poetry tick.

Home Sweet Home!

 
All things considered, I got the Emily Dickinson education I dreamed of (except the metrics, which would come twenty-five years later) on about four hours of sleep night, spending the bulk of my waking hours studying and working and occasionally taking breaks to enjoy my Philadelphia surroundings. Okay, so I had a short nose, but I also had the time of my life.

My friend Colorado Susan and I often complain about how we are, worker bees who long for honey, but it’s who we are. I have accepted that the joy I get comes in large part from what my heart and hands and brain and guts are up to: work. I like to keep busy, but even more than that I like to be useful.

There are many ways in this life to be productive. For some that includes making money or finding fame, and I’ve reached that age of life—no longer limber but not quite stone—where I am ready to accept and be happy with the things I like to do. If I had more time I would go to culinary school or take tap lessons, but I will always find a way to fit writing into my day. It’s the honey I must make to “bee happy” (groan) and it’s the work I do in which I find my balm. Always, even when it’s the most frustrating aspect of the day.

This new website, the editing work I do, the book about to appear, and the books and poems on the horizon, they are not the product of luck or chance or passing fancy. They are my short nose, a funny profile indeed.

And one for which I am truly grateful for the opportunity to keep grinding away at.

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